I can unequivocally say that the last few weeks have been the most difficult of my life. I’ve experienced trials that I never imagined it would be possible to withstand. And yet, God has been so near. He has allowed me to face some of my biggest fears and personal weaknesses: things like dealing with conflict, struggling with being a people-pleaser, making (and owning) decisions, and caring way too much about others’ opinions. Never once has He left me alone!
When we first moved to the mission field, I ran across this little poem that William Cowper wrote many moons ago. In fact, I wrote it out and memorized several stanzas because the Scripture-saturated truths kept me looking upward and not at the storms around me.
When struggles come, we as Christians often pray for the Lord to remove trials from our lives. Yet, it looks like Cowper had learned something about his burdens. Through his difficulties, he was getting more of Jesus. While I’m not going to go asking for more pain, I continue to learn that there is a sweet rest in taking my heartaches to Him.
‘Tis My Happiness Below William Cowper 1773
’Tis my happiness below Not to live without the cross; But the Savior’s pow’r to know Sanctifying every loss.
Trials must and will befall; But with humble faith to see Love inscribed upon them all— This is happiness to me.
Did I meet no trials here, No chastisement by the way, Might I not with reason fear I should prove a castaway?
Trials make the promise sweet; Trials give new life to prayer; Bring me to my Savior’s feet, Lay me low and keep me there.
Just like that, 2020 is in the books! (Heh. See what I did there?)
This month, I enjoyed reading the first installment in Priscilla Shirer’s adventure series, The Prince Warriors. This book had elements reminiscent of classics like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, or Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. However, Shirer’s debut into fiction is much more “manageable” for young readers who might struggle with archaic vocabulary. The premise: four young kids journey to a mysterious world they’ve only read about in a book. There in the strange land, Ahoratos, the children essentially live out the invisible struggle with the spiritual realm. Lots of references to passages in Ephesians. If you don’t mind reading a book that’s targeted to engage elementary students, I’d say it’s worth picking it up!
Below – some good quotes I ran across in December!
"Oh, this is a real battle, Evan. There's a sneaky, malicious enemy that you are always in a battle with--even now.... Someone who wants to remain hidden so that you'll forget he's even there. He'll do everything he can to make you feel like you will never win.1
"She must come through on her own," Ruwach said calmly. "Others can call her, and I can make it accessible to her, but she must make the choice on her own."1
"This Book is different from any other. It cannot simply be read. It must be revealed. You may not understand the revelation at first, but if you keep it close, you will soon see its meaning."1
The speech set a pattern that he would follow throughout the war, offering a sober appraisal of facts, tempered with reason for optimism. “It would be foolish to disguise the gravity of the hour,” he said. “It would be still more foolish to lose heart and courage.”2
“We shall go on to the end,” he said, in a crescendo of ferocity and confidence. “We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender—” As the House roared its approval, Churchill muttered to a colleague, “And…we will fight them with the butt end of broken bottles, because that’s bloody well all we’ve got.”2
Churchill affirmed that the only path was indeed attack [on the French fleet], and began to weep.2
1The Prince Warriors #1, Priscilla Shirer and Gina Detwiler 2The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, Erik Larson
The start of any new school year always seems to throw off my groove. Survival becomes the name of the game. For the last couple of years, I haven’t found my footing again until close to Christmas. Even with the craziness of COVID and the lack of students here at school, the months have been beyond busy. Honestly, I was nervous for a bit about reaching my “20 Books in 2020” goal, but it looks like I’m gaining some balance as the year finishes off. Here are the books I was able to finish between August and November!
I finally wrapped up Churchill: The Power of Words, which I’ve been wading through for.ev.er. This compilation by Martin Gilbert takes a look at dynamic snippets of Churchill’s speeches/writings that he shared over the course of his political career. It took me awhile to get interested, but when the war hit, things obviously took off. The man had such a compelling way of inspiring his countrymen (and much of the world) to hold on in the face of adversity. I’ve recently been wondering what he’d have to say about the world’s current events if he were alive today…
Together, we ladies here at Freedom are working through The Beautiful Fight by Gary Thomas. I went ahead and finished early. Gary’s big point is the importance of living an “incarnational” life. What difference does Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension actually make for me today? Am I resisting the urge for complacency in my daily walk with the Lord? While this fight is a difficult one, it’s so completely worth it – it’s beautiful, in fact!
My wonderful Grandma Vi suggested a favorite series of hers, the first book being At Home in Mitford. A couple of my Goodreads friends rated this one highly as well. This long but pleasant read is based on the happenings of small-town characters who live in cozy, little Mitford. Much of the book focused in on the life of Father Tim, the bachelor rector of a small, country church. It took me awhile to really get invested, but by the end, I’d fallen in love with each individual’s quirky personality.
Orphan Train was part of my birthday haul this past January. (Yes, I read slowly, and yes, I was gifted a lot of books last year!) I loved learning about this little piece of history from the early 1900’s. Apparently, a social experiment called the Orphan Train Movement was started with the intention to help homeless children find new families. I’m sure there are some other cool historical reads out there that cover this topic, but this particular book was full of a ton of foul language. From that standpoint, I don’t recommend this read.
I’ll leave just a few good quotes I gleaned from my reading this fall. Enjoy!
It is only by studying the past that we can foresee, however dimly, the future.1
Among our Socialist opponents there is great confusion. Some of them regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is – the strong and willing horse that pulls the whole cart along.1
We apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments… into the Reality — from Christian apologetics into Christ himself.2
If we allow the world to steal our hearts, we have all but lost the battle.2
When I refuse to face the pain of transformation, eventually I must endure the misery of my immaturity.2
Never yet was there a laborer in God’s vineyard who was not overpaid.2
In the brilliant words of Dallas Willard, grace is opposed to earning, not effort. Indeed, Peter tells us to “make every effort” (2 Peter 1:5). Some people mistake “letting go and letting God” as a call to simply stop trying. But grace doesn’t remove human effort; it focuses and empowers it.2
We have to remember that the Beautiful Fight is not eternal; one glorious moment, it will all come to an end. And in that instant, we will be fully like Jesus, our hearts’ delight. The moment of that rest is different for each one of us, but it is as certain as anything can be.2
1Churchill: The Power of Words, edited by Martin Gilbert 2The Beautiful Fight, Gary Thomas
I finished just one book last month, but I really enjoyed it! David McCasland traces the life of Oswald Chambers from his childhood in Scotland to his journeys around the world. In one sense, Oswald couldn’t “sit still” – he traveled to Japan, England, and the US (where he briefly taught at the Bible college my parents attended). During WWII, he found himself in Egypt where he served as a YMCA chaplain until his death. This godly man was certainly devoted to the Lord. His wife was completely committed too. Because of her tireless work, many of Chambers’ lectures and sermons are preserved to this day.
As always, some of the quotes that stood out to me this month are listed below!
“Hudson Taylor said last night that Our Lord’s words ‘Have faith in God’ really mean ‘Have faith in the faithfulness of God,’ not in your own faithfulness.”1
Holiness is not an attainment at all, it is the gift of God.... He makes holy, He sanctifies, He does it all. All I have to do is come as a spiritual pauper, not ashamed to beg, to let go of my right to myself and act on Romans 12:1–2. It is never ‘Do, do and you’ll be’ with the Lord, but ‘Be, be, and I will do through you.’1
The world is very wide and God is reigning.1
One of the blessed things about this life is that a man carries his kingdom on the inside, and that makes the outside lovely.1
He looms large tonight. Nothing is worth living for but just Himself. I see churches and... movemements all tagged with His name but how little of Himself? I wish every breath I drew, all speech I made could make Him come and seem more real to men.1
A man who would live for Christ in a turbulent world must draw his life from the depths of God himself, not from the froth and foam of surface experience.1
Oswald’s approach to the future was simple: “Trust God and do the next thing.”1
He sounded a constant warning to people who said, “Thank God I’m saved and sanctified, now it’s all right.” The result of resting on experience, according to Oswald, was “fixed ideas, moral deterioration, and utter ignorance of God’s book. Always beware of the danger of finality.”1
“What we need,” he concluded, “is to begin to walk in the way we already know.”1
“There will come one day a personal and direct touch from God when every tear and perplexity, every oppression and distress, every suffering and pain, and wrong and injustice will have a complete and ample and overwhelming explanation.”1
It is in the years of peace that wars are prevented and that those foundations are laid upon which the noble structures of the future can be built. But peace will not be preserved without the virtues that make victory possible in war. Peace will not be preserved by pious sentiments expressed in terms of platitudes or by official grimaces and diplomatic correctitude....2
1Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, David McCasland 2Churchill: The Power of Words, edited by Martin Gilbert
Less time to read this past month, but still thankful for each minute!
I started another book that was gifted to me for my birthday: Cilka’s Journey. This sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz follows the experiences of a young girl named Cilka, a secondary character from the first book. While Cilka was a fictional character who dealt with a ton of trauma from her experiences, my mind often wandered to those who actually endured these horrific atrocities. Cilka was shipped off to a Siberian worker camp the day everyone was liberated from Auschwitz. I think I would’ve lost hope. To be honest, Morris is not my favorite author – her writing style and excessive use of language are simply not my cup of tea.
If you’re not a history buff, you probably won’t enjoy this one. I’ll admit – it took me awhile to “get into it.” There’s no way I’ll remember all the historical details that were presented in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee with just one read-through, but I’m glad I finished it. Wow – much bloodshed, lies, and deceit on both sides of the battles that took place between the Indians and the whites who were moving westward. Hard to reconcile the wonderful ideals upon which our beautiful country was founded with the terrible actions of many of the men in the government and the military – even clergy. I loved that each chapter opened with a page of important events and facts from around the world. It helped me “fill more holes” in my understanding of history. I also appreciated the occasional glimpse of men from both cultures valuing and loving others even if it meant sacrificing something important to them.
I moved forward in a few other books as well. Here are some thought-provoking quotes that caught my eye!
"To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he's doing is good," wrote Solhenitsyn.1
It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and broken promises...2
Oh, my brothers, the Almighty looks down on me, and knows what I am, and hears my words. May the Almighty send a good spirit to brood over you, my brothers, to move you to help me.2
There was no hope on earth, and God seemed to have forgotten us... -Red Cloud2
When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream...2
One fault, one crime, and one crime only, can rob the United Nations and the British people, upon whose constancy this grand alliance came into being, of the victory upon which their lives and honour depend. A weakening in our purpose and therefore in our unity - that is the mortal crime.3
We do not war primarily with races as such. Tyranny is our foe, whatever trappings or disguise it wears, whatever language it speaks, be it external or internal, we must for ever be on our guard....3
...I have recorded two characteristics of his which seemed to me invaluable in those days: first, his power to live in the present yet without taking short views; and secondly, his power of drawing from misfortune itself the means of future success.3
"When the heart sees what God wants," Oswald used to say, "the body must be willing to spend and be spent for that cause alone."4
I'm going away from my home now, like a bird leaving an old nest.... Here I have drunk in God, here I have prayed, here I have wept, here I have worked, here I have agonized, and now, Farewell home! I smile because of all you know and have seen, God has known and seen too. How grand, you'll never tell the secrets whispered by me in the ear of God, and God's whispered words in mine....4
1Cilka’s Journey, Heather Morris 2Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown 3Churchill: The Power of Words, edited by Martin Gilbert 4Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, David McCasland
Two sweet missionary friends (one who lives right next door, and one who lives halfway around the world) have been telling me for quite awhile that I absolutely had to read Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss. They weren’t wrong! This fantastic book, first published in 1869, is a coming-of-age story – journal style – that traces a young girl’s life as she grows up, starts a family, and deals with life’s various hardships and struggles. Prentiss so artfully shares how Katherine falls more in love with Jesus each day. The language and cadence may be difficult to grasp at first (it’s a 150-year-old work after all), but I wholeheartedly recommend this book!
I also worked through The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. The authors, Lukianoff and Haidt, while operating from a pragmatic point of view, make some excellent points about the culture of “safetyism” that is overtaking America today. As far as I can tell, these two gentlemen are not believers. While they’ve missed the wonderful difference Jesus could make if He were invited into the conversation, they do a great job identifying problems and trends in our country, and they recognize that, as a nation, we must value truth more than comfort.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz was a birthday gift! This story falls into my favorite genre. I finished the book contemplating the various decisions each of these characters was forced to make to stay alive. Are there any instances when compromise is OK? What happens when personal decisions affect the lives of others? This story is certainly not a pretty one, but I continue to be drawn to the experiences of those who lived through the atrocities that Hitler unleashed. (From a writing standpoint, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m old-fashioned. Novels written in the present tense usually tend to annoy me. Overall, I was much more impressed with the survival story upon which the book was based than the actual writing. Five stars for storyline, 1 star for delivery.)
Below are some favorite excerpts I read this month!
We are all very happy together when nothing goes wrong.1
I came away, and all the way home I fought this battle with myself, saying, "He loves me!" I knelt down to pray, and all my wasted, childish, wicked life came and stared me in the face. I looked at it, and said with tears of joy, "But He loves me!" Never in my life did I feel so rested, so quieted, so sorrowful, and yet so satisfied.1
Then I began to hem those handkerchiefs Mother asked me to finish a month ago. But I could not think of anything to do for God.1
I see that if I would be happy in God, I must give Him all. And there is this wicked reluctance to do that. I want Him--but I want to have my own way, too. I want to walk humbly and softly before Him, and I want to go where I shall be admired and applauded. To whom shall I yield? To God? Or myself?1
I wish I did not take such violent likes and dislikes to people. I want my religion to change me in every respect.1
"...the first thing you have to do is learn Christ." "But how?" "On your knees, my child, on your knees!"1
If Christ do all, what am I to do?1
It is easy, in theory, to let God plan our own destiny, and that of our friends. But when it comes to a specific case we fancy we can help His judgments with our poor reason.1
Instead of fancying that our ordinary daily work was one thing and our religion quite another thing, we should transmute our drudgery into acts of worship...1
...if I had been told what I was to learn through these protracted sufferings I am afraid I should have shrunk back in terror and so have lost all the sweet lessons God proposed to teach me. As it is He has led me on, step by step, answering my prayers in His own way; and I cannot bear to have a single human being doubt that it has been a perfect way. I love and adore it just as it is.1
We can all be more thoughtful about our own speech, but it is unjust to treat people as if they are bigots when they harbor no ill will.2
"I don't want you to be safe ideologically. I don't want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong. That's different. I'm not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity."2
... Americans are now motivated to leave their couches to take part in political action not by love for their party's candidate but by hatred for the other party's candidate. Negative partisanship means that American politics is driven less by hope and more by the Untruth of Us Versus Them. "They" must be stopped, at all costs.2
Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.2
Having people around us who are willing to disagree with us is a gift. So when you realize you are wrong, admit that you are wrong, and thank your critics for helping you see it.2
... thinking is social. As lone individuals, each of us is not terribly smart, for we are all prone to cognitive distortions and the confirmation bias. But if you put people into the right sorts of groups and networks, where ideas can be shared, criticized, and improved, something better and truer can emerge.2
He must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honour to be the faithful servants.3
1Stepping Heavenward, Elizabeth Prentiss 2The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt 3Churchill: The Power of Words, edited by Martin Gilbert
Zipped through some fiction books this month and made progress on a few of my non-fiction reads.
One of my favorite librarians left me Things I Never Told You on her last visit to the DR. I enjoyed reading about these three sisters who work through their broken relationships and try to process their fourth sister’s death. (From a writing standpoint, I’m still not sure how I feel about the switching between first and third person, but it didn’t bother me enough to quit reading.) Not a 5-star read, but I liked it enough to purchase the second of the Thatcher Sisters trilogy for a couple bucks on my Kindle.
Moments We Forget, book #2 in the aforementioned series by Beth Vogt, continues the story of the Thatcher sisters, focusing on Jillian and her battle with cancer. I liked “getting to know” the three girls better. It was cool watching another sister become interested in developing a relationship with the Lord.
More than a Carpenter is a classic read that I’m not sure I’ve ever picked up before. This new edition was co-written by Josh and Sean McDowell; the study questions were well-thought through. This is a great read for new believers or anyone curious about Christianity.
Candle in the Darkness by Lynn Austin was my favorite read this month! I downloaded this piece of historical fiction awhile back, and it’s been sitting dormant on my Kindle for several years. I accidentally opened it a couple weeks ago and thought, “Why not give it a try?” Ended up loving it. The characters were fantastic, Caroline’s slave Eli being a favorite. (I was reading this simultaneously with Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a non-fiction book about the same time period but focused on events out West. Neat to see Lincoln mentioned in both. I was able to make some more big-picture connections in American history.) I know life doesn’t always bring the happy ending for everyone, but it felt good to see things resolve after so much conflict/loss.
I tried awful hard to pare down my favorite thoughts/quotes from this month, but I wasn’t very successful. Skip them if you must.
How did forgiveness work? The divine interacting with the less-than of mankind. How did the supposed goodness of God not get overpowered by the world’s darkness?1
Mark Twain said this--'I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.'2
But maybe...maybe faith wasn't so much about believing enough. Being enough. Maybe faith was realizing the truth of who God was, and what He promised, was enough for all her doubts.2
Forgiveness always has a price.3
As G.K. Chesteron says, 'The purpose of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to close it again on something solid.'3
Christianity is not a religion; it's not a system; it's not an ethical idea; it's not a psychological phenomenon. It's a person. If you trust Christ, start watching your attitudes and actions because Jesus Christ is in the business of changing lives.3
'He put us where we are for time being and give us a job to do. And even if I can't see a reason why, I gonna do this job for Jesus. I gonna love white folks, whether they love me back or not, 'cause that's what Jesus tell me to do.'4
'Seem like a mighty hard thing to change someone's mind,' he said. 'Most folks won't change their mind unless they have a change of heart first.'4
'Some of these men never once thought about Jesus their whole life,' he said. 'But they crying out to Him now cause they hurt and afraid. Jesus wants to answer them. He wants to help that poor dying boy out there, but the only arms and the only voice He has is ours.'4
'Can't never go by your feelings. Got to go by the word of the Lord.'4
'I won my freedom long before the Yankees came,' Josiah said quietly. 'I was free the moment I picked you up and decided to forgive Missy Caroline and her daddy. You can start living as a free man, too, once you forgive...."4
Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured. But I fear - I fear greatly - the storm will not pass... There is no chance of a speedy end except through united action.5
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: it is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.5
There are vast numbers not only in this island but in every land, who will render faithful service in this War, but whose names will never be known, whose deeds will never be recorded. This is a War of the Unknown Warriors...5
Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.5
Be of good cheer. The hour of your deliverance will come. The soul of freedom is deathless; it cannot, and will not, perish.5
Goodnight then: sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come.5
'There are bad white men and bad Indians,' [Black Kettle] said. 'The bad men on both sides brought about this trouble.'6
If you see yourself or your fellow students as candles, you'll want to make your campus a wind-free zone.7
A culture that allows the concept of 'safety' to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.7
1Things I Never Told You, Beth K. Vogt 2Moments We Forget, Beth K. Vogt 3More Than a Carpenter, Josh and Sean McDowell 4Candle in the Darkness, Lynn Austin 5Churchill: The Power of Words, edited by Martin Gilbert 6Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown 7The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt